Arguably, there weren’t many ways for women to obtain power and autonomy in 19th Century England and France. The two titular characters of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary both want to be free to live their own lives, and each makes decisions to that end. Emma relies on her sexuality to exert control over the men in her life whom she sees as the source of independence. Jane puts her faith in her virtue and refuses to compromise her principles for male protection, choosing liberty and a life of hardship.
Two different women make different decisions about the roles they and their bodies will play, yet in the end they share the same goal: freedom in an oppressive time. Both authors’ portrayal of this goal suggests female autonomy rests in the ability to make decisions and act. Flaubert does this by demonstrating the limitations of placing those actions within the context and power of male-dominated customs, and Bronte by showing a strong female character who works hard to not fall under male control through her decisions and in doing so finds independence.
Irene Herzig, ’15
Major: English – Literature Concentration
Sponsor: Shannon Reed